So far, this has not been a good year for me. A lot of great people that I have gotten to know in my many years on the sports beat are passing away.
Last week as I returned with the kids and grandkids from a super vacation trip to the Outer Banks of North Carolina, I learned that Hugh "Wink" Gallagher had died.
In my estimation, he was among those special breed of persons whom I had come to admire and respect not only in his role as an educator, coach and administrator, but more personally as a human being.
He was 81 and had lived the good life. As I wrote in the last story I did about him back in the fall of 1982, his personality alone touched countless numbers of students, faculty members (for that matter everyone around him) in a very special way, reflecting his own dedication, courage and humility.
When Wink retired in 1980 at the age of 70, he left a legacy of service well beyond the call of duty. His life is best told not so much in statistics, such as wins and loses, championships etc. compiled during his coaching days, but about his emotions and dealings with humankind.
Nicknamed "Wink" after emulating Wink Goeff of the Washington Monarchs baseball team, which played an exhibition in Tamaqua when he was a boy, Gallagher admitted that retiring from his lifelong career in athletics was "terribly difficult".
Denied taking over as the head football coach of LaSalle College in 1940 when the school decided to drop the sport, he returned to his roots a few years later to teach, coach and father the Marian High sports program during a career in education and athletics that spanned more than a quarter century.
Whatever he may have missed coaching on the college level, Gallagher was convinced he found many times over at Marian. But, if the school was good to him, he was something of a Godsend to the school.
His love affair with Marian began when the school was first established back in 1954 as a merger of the three Catholic high schools in Lansford, Coaldale and Tamaqua.
At the time, he was coaching what was then called the Panther Valley Catholic football team which comprised players from those three Catholic high schools. Also he was coaching the St. Jerome's of Tamaqua basketball team -- and all this while working as a weighmaster at the No. 8 colliery of the Lehigh Coal and Navigation Co. because there were no available teaching jobs.
So the move to coach the teams (football, basketball and baseball) in the new Marian merger was easy for him. Basketball was his favorite and he spent 32 years at the helm of the Colts' courtiers compiling a 423-243 record.
As it turned out he did more than just coach. He served as the school's athletic director, arranging schedules, hiring officials, lining the field, driving the team bus and also keeping "Ole Ironsides" mechanically sound which he often said was a miraculous task.
Gallagher retired from football first in 1964 because of added AD duties, then dropped baseball in 1967 after winning the last of several league crowns. He stepped down in basketball in 1969, but continued to coach the school's golf team.
He spent three years with the paratroopers during World War II, volunteering for various missions in the European theater including the invasions of Normandy, Rhineland and Northern France earning the Silver Star and five Bronze clusters before his discharge in 1945.
Gallagher applied the same dedication and devotion to his coaching ethics which gained him the love and respect of all.
Upon learning of his retirement from teaching in 1980, one of his teams, imbued by what they described as his gentlemanliness and sportsmanship penned this tribute to him:
You gave us your: W-isdom I-interest N-nobility K-kindness.
We gave you our:G-ratitude A-allegiance L-loyalty L-love A-ability G-greatness H-honor E-emulation R-respect.
The last time I talked to him was during his induction as a charter member of the Carbon County chapter of the Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame in Jim Thorpe last year. His health was failing but as always his greeting was: "How's the family?."
He was a most caring and considerate person. It was indeed a pleasure and a privilege to have known him. My heartfelt condolences to his family.